Saturday, October 31, 2009

Dog Days

[This is my Max. You can tell he is asleep because he is not licking my hand. Or arm. Or foot.]

The last 24 hours or so have really sucked and it is both sucking my motivation to get movie-related things done and propelling me towards doing just that. I seem to do the best, and the bulk, of my work at night when no one can bother me. And since it is Halloween and everyone will be out, my phone should not be ringing and I should be able to get some stuff done. I was supposed to go to a party tonight (and last night, for that matter), but I am just not up to it.

It all started Thursday afternoon, and I am not going to get into the details of it, but work at my day job is really stressing me out, to the point that I couldn't get to sleep until almost 4:00am that night. Too much to explain, but one way or another, I am probably going to be out of a job, AND my apartment, by the end of January. Basically I am trying not to get myself fired before I get myself laid off. But they aren't making that easy.

So Friday morning I hand to have a confrontation with a few people. I had already had this confrontation two months ago, on the phone. This time it was in writing. It seems to have quieted down for the moment. We'll see.

Then in the afternoon I was googling to see how much word is out there about "Smalltimore". The good thing was, there is a lot, and it is popping up on other people's sites and pages and that's great. But also I stumbled across a review by someone who saw it at a festival, and this person ripped it apart, though they at least conceded that the production values were good. And I do agree with that person that the credits are too long and I am going to try to speed them up. But still, it was really brutal and it further soured my mood. This review was followed by someone else's review who saw it at the same festival, and that one was quite the opposite, that person loved it, so that was nice to read. But the wind was still sucked out of my sails. It is to be expected, not everyone likes everything. There are some movies out there that people go on and on about that I despise. Part of the game. Whatever.

What else... I thought my bulk shipment of DVDs and cases would have come in yesterday, and it is still not here. This is worrying me.

I was supposed to go to a costume party last night but didn't have a costume. I don't really like dressing in costume but I think it is also lame to go to a costume party without a costume. Turns out the decision was made for me. I was cat-sitting for my friend Greg (Greg generously loaned his house to "Smalltimore," it was Tony's house in the movie). I went over there to make sure Buddha had food and hang out with him for a bit. When I got there he seemed out of it, and long story short, I called Greg and ended up taking Buddha to the emergency vet. He didn't improve and they had to euthanize him this morning. Greg just lost his other cat a couple months ago, and the whole thing really sucks, though I am glad I was there to take care of Buddha.

So I get home from that ordeal and I find a man sitting in the dark in a parked car in my parking lot. I asked if I could help him and he got belligerent with me immediately. Which, of course, was EXACTLY what I needed to be coming home to at this point. He lied to me and said he was a driver for a guest at the inn. I knew this wasn't true and told him, "You need to leave, now." He replied, "YOU need to leave!" The only reason I was sure this guy wasn't TWELVE YEARS OLD was because he was a behemoth. So yea, that all makes sense, right? Park on someone else's property, and when a woman half your size who informs you she is the manager of the property asks you why you are there, become threatening. Makes perfect sense. Then I said I was calling the police. He said go ahead, call the police. Then he said HE was going to call the police. Then, I called the police. Then I called my neighbor to come over and wait with me for the police, because I just realized the guy may be nuts as well as being an asshole. The police came, and told the guy to get off the property. Sometimes I just hate people. Seriously, this guy had to be close to 50 years old and acting like that. WTF?

I'm just exhausted. Just been going non-stop for weeks now. I just need a couple nights to myself, to get things in motion for the December 9th screening, and to finish organizing the Poconos short that we are doing a week from Monday. I am not going anywhere tonight. Well, I am going across the street to help my neighbor Philip do his make-up before he goes to the party I was supposed to go to. But then I am hibernating and getting stuff done here. Just not in the mood to talk to people.

Which is why I posted this picture of Max. Max and my other Yorkie, Timmy (both can be seen in the opening scene of "Smalltimore"!), keep me sane through these kind of days. A little dog-snuggling goes a long way. Excuse me now, I need to get back to doing exactly that.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

"No Rest For the Wicked...

...and the good don't need it!" That's what my old boss used to tell me, anyway. Though I think he was just trying to get me to laugh about working 70+ hours a week. To imagine I want to get out of the hotel business and into the movie business! It isn't any less work, though it is more fun, and usually does not involve making beds (though even that comes into play from time to time when dressing a set - hotel management experience really does lend itself to moviemaking!).

The above photo may not LOOK like work, and it wasn't really, but it is still movie-related and I am still doing my part to promote Baltimore as The Place To Be for indie filmmakers. The guy checking out Orpheus' bum at Fort McHenry is my friend & fellow filmmaker Adam Bronstein ("My Movie Girl",, who was visiting from L.A. Well, actually he lives in L.A. but was on the east coast because his film screened in NYC last week and he has family over here and had been visiting his Dad in NYC and his Mom & sister in Philly, so he was almost here already, but it sounds cooler to say he was visiting from L.A. than he was visiting from Philly. Though now I've gone and ruined that.

Anyway. I've mentioned Adam before, I met him at the Philadelphia Independent Film Festival in June. We stayed in touch and when "Smalltimore" screened in Anaheim he drove 2 hours through hellacious traffic to see it and did that again to come to the awards ceremony where I won Best Director. Then his movie screened in NYC last week so I went up there for that, then he came to Baltimore for 3 days to hang out. It was really fun showing him the locations where we filmed "Smalltimore" and he even got to meet and hang out with 3 of the actors.

While I was in NYC, in addition to seeing Adam I also got to see Mikey B, one of my Exec Producers, and another filmmaker, Vagabond Beaumont ( I had met Vagabond at my very first festival, The Heart of England FF, in June, and hadn't seen him since so that was fun. Also I went to see the Broadway show "Oleanna" starring Bill Pullman, and got to see him for a few minutes afterwords. If you go waaaay back to the near beginning of this blog (actually, the previous blog, you can read about Bill's influence on "Smalltimore". Too much to go into right now. Bottom line, he is a great guy, and has been a great cheerleader and very supportive of my efforts as I elbow my way into this world.

The day before getting to NYC I went up to Mikey's cabin in the Poconos with Michelle and her girlfriend/AC/right arm Megan, to do some pre-production for the new short we will be shooting in November. That was both fun and very productive, and we are all feeling really good about this project. In less than 3 hours from the time I am writing this, the two actresses in the short are coming to my place for our first read-through. I love this part of the process. Not everyone does this. I like to have this time to give my actors some input. I believe it strengthens the characters if the actors are given a chance to tweak them just a little, to work out any dialogue that might not come across as naturally in life as it does on the page, and to give the actors time to question me about the background of the characters. It helps them to own the part, as well as giving them a sense of ownership in the entire process. When we were doing the table read of "Smalltimore" last summer, several of the actors commented to me that it was very cool to have their opinions considered. That doesn't mean I changed everything they suggested, it is just that actors so rarely are asked for input, and they appreciated being heard. As a director it gives me a better handle on where they are coming from, and for the actors it gives them a chance to become comfortable with me and my style.

Of course there is a whole lot more going on on top of that. Last night was the Members' Committee meeting at the Creative Alliance, where we screen films that have been submitted for the next 4 months of programming and weigh in on if we think they are a good fit. Tonight I am going to go over some materials that were sent to me by Li Zhu, who I have worked with on a couple other projects and I will be helping her with casting her new short. I really love casting. It is like Christmas shopping to me, finding the perfect actor for the part is like finding the perfect gift for a friend. When it is perfect, you just know it, and there is such a satisfaction in that.

The big deal, of course, is the "Smalltimore" screening at The Charles Theater six weeks from now. I have to get together with Kyle Holtgren ASAP, he is going to help me design some marketing materials and cover art for the DVD, and I will probably have to get Cheryl Scungio to come in for a photo shoot so we can slap her smiling face on the cover and posters, since she's my lead.

Then there is figuring out how many DVDs to make and how to make them. I ordered the DVDs and cases in bulk yesterday, and dropped off the check for the theater rental the day before that... it is no joke that you have to spend money to make money. Actually, the saying should be, "You have to spend money to have a snowball's chance in hell of breaking even," but I guess that is not as catchy and slightly discouraging. Economics is so very... inconvenient. If I want to make 600 duplicates of the DVD, I can pay someone else to do it and spend $700-$1,000. Or I can buy a low-end DVD duplicator for about $1,300, not including ink cartridges. Or I can buy a better one for about $2,000. Or I can try to burn 25 DVDs a day from my laptop for the next month and hope that that doesn't kill my very expensive laptop. Which is the only option that at this moment I can actually AFFORD.

Buying the duplicator makes the most sense and it would pay for itself if I sell enough DVDs in the not-too-distant future. I just don't have the money to do it, not even on credit right now. So the best I can come up with for the moment is, start off burning DVDs from my laptop for the next 3 weeks, make only the minimum payment on my credit cards this month from my first paycheck and then with the remnants of my first November paycheck and pretty much all of the second November paycheck, buy the duplicator and I'll have it about 2 weeks before the screening date and have time to make a couple hundred on that, before killing my laptop. And then everyone I have ever met needs to buy at least two DVDs of "Smalltimore". This means you.

I am not saying all of this to complain, and it will work itself out, I always find a way. I am just saying this because that is what this blog is for, to let you know everything that goes into all of this, not just the fun and sexy parts that result in a decent final product or big event. There is a lot of elbow grease, and a lot of cold, hard cash, that go into both.

Not to mention time! Somehow in the month of November I have to pull all of this off, including casting for Li and shooting this short for 3 days in the Poconos. Oh, and on December 12, three days after the screening, I am teaching a pre-production class at the Creative Alliance (, and I need to prepare for that.

Well, I have to go get ready for the table read now. Put some snacks and drinks together for my actors (Megan Rippey and Julia Broder, if you're curious), and read over the script again to mentally prepare myself. It is a heavy drama and it will be interesting to me to see the difference in this type of table read. The one for "Smalltimore," was a blast, 15 people sitting around the table laughing our heads off. This time, just three of us, and one of the actors (Julia) I haven't even met in person yet, I cast her from seeing her at the Stonehenge auditions.

I think if I ever decide to get out of the filmmaking circus I might... join the circus! It is sort of like that, so much going on at one time, making sure each ring is under control and operating smoothly. Either that or firefighting. Lord knows I have enough experience putting those out! I probably wouldn't meet the height requirement, though.

More semi-incriminating photos of Adam Bronstein will soon be posted on the Smalltimore, the Movie Facebook page: Keep up to date with Smalltimore happenings both there and here!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

SMALLTIMORE DVD Release & Screening!

[Cheryl Scungio, Johnny Benson, and Kelly Coston in "Smalltimore"]

I have been ridiculously busy and surprisingly productive lately, speaking at the film class at UMBC, applying for some local film-related fellowships, writing my film resume, finishing the script for the new short, going with Michelle to Mikey's cabin to do some pre-production for that short, scouting locations for the short AFTER that short (not yet written, still brewing), going to New York to see my friend Adam's film, "My Movie Girl", at the CMJ Festival (I submitted, too, didn't get in :( but very happy to be there to support Adam!), but most importantly, nailing down the big screening and DVD release of "Smalltimore" at The Charles Theater!

"Smalltimore" Screening & DVD Release
Wednesday, December 9th
7:00pm at The Charles Theater
1711 North Charles Street, Baltimore

RSVP here via Facebook to the Social Event of the Season! All are welcome!

There will be an EPIC post-party very close by, immediately following the screening. Details to be announced soon. Hope to see you there!

I am exhausted, but will write more when time permits. Enjoy my brevity for the moment, we both know it won't last :)

Friday, October 9, 2009

Racking Up the Credits

[Mikey's cabin in the Poconos, the location of my next short film, being shot later this month.]

How did I get so busy? Ya know, I have to stop asking myself that. I accepted a long time ago that at this point in my life there is really no such thing as "down time." If I am NOT busy, then I am in trouble...

Earlier this year, though don't ask me to pinpoint exactly when, I decided that, in addition to pushing "Smalltimore" at any festivals I could get it into (3 so far, all of which I attended this summer, one at which I won "Best Director"), I decided that I would dedicate the rest of this year to working on other people's projects in order to bulk up my resume with screen credits. Well, I got my wish. And no, I am not going to say, "Be careful what you wish for," because I am very glad to have gotten my wish, even though every moment that I take to breathe these days leaves me feeling a little guilty that I am not busy working on something.

So, what have I been up to? Well, you already know about my short, "The Red-Headed Menace," that we filmed in July and won the Judith Reinart Independent Spirit Award for in August, at the 29 Days Later Film Festival. "TRHM" screened again this past Monday at the Creative Alliance at the monthly Cinelounge meeting. That was really fun. Great turnout, loads of great feedback. After we screened, along with 2nd ("Tiny") and 3rd ("Apnea") place winners from 29 Days Later, I had to go up to the stage with the other two filmmakers for a short Q & A. It was only later that I realized that not only was this the first time I went up to a stage for something like this without my heart beating faster in a bad way, but I actually felt very comfortable and really enjoyed it. I never thought I would get to the point in my life when public speaking did not terrify me, but here I am.

Along those lines, but skipping ahead, this weekend I am preparing to speak at a class at UMBC next Tuesday taught by Kimberly Moffitt on the subject of Film in Baltimore. She is giving them the link to this blog today so thought I'd give them a little shout out. Look forward to meeting you guys! Last year Kimberly found me after reading something about "Smalltimore" online, and asked me to speak at her class last December. That was pretty nerve-wracking at first, but it turned out that I really enjoyed it. When I left that day, which was their last class before final exams, she told me that some questions on their final would be about my presentation. How cool is that? I was glad to get another call from her this year, looking forward to it. There was a time when I would have only thought of standing in front of a class like that to be pure torture, and here I am wishing I could do it more often. That is the beauty of filmmaking. You can't even imagine all the amazing lessons and personal growth that come with putting yourself out there like that until you actually do it.

But, as usual, I digress.

So, to update you on the other projects I have my hands in: last weekend I got back to work on the feature, "The Rosens," with Director Steve Yeager, though this time in addition to being Assistant Director I have also taken on the responsibility of Co-Producer, which basically means I do a bit more leg work in between filming days to help find locations, props, personnel, etc., that make the operation run more smoothly. Such as, I got Regina Guy on board to do Craft Services during the weekend shoot. Always great working with her, and partaking of her famous homemade chili :)

You already heard about "Please God, Someone Normal," so I won't recap that again. Other projects I have been asked to participate in but as they are still in early pre-production I have yet to get my hands very dirty, but will before year's end: one of my Production Assistant interns from "Smalltimore", Shernay Williams, is producing a short with her writer/director brother, and I will be doing some consulting with them next week and possibly through the length of the project, due to be shot in November. Another PA intern, but this one from "Ju-Ju: The Witch Doctor Chronicles,", Li Zhu, who also served as Assistant Camera on "The Red-Headed Menace" is preparing to shoot her thesis piece for Stevenson University and I will be doing some consulting and likely some production work for her. Normally, I would not be excited about working on a student film, but Li is such a perfectionist and I know that she has such a sharp eye that she will make certain that her piece is flawless, and I know the final product will be something that I would be happy to have my name associated with. Shernay's project as well. I read her brother's script and I think it has great potential.

So, there are a couple more screen credits. I wouldn't do just anything for screen credits, though, don't get me wrong. I wouldn't let my name be put on something unless I was proud to be a part of it. Another project that is very early in the works is an untitled short by Craig Herron. It will be heavy on the computer-generated effects and I haven't worked on anything like that before and I am looking forward to that getting off the ground. I will likely help with the script and on the production side.

Production isn't really what I want to get into, but I am good at it and there is a demand for those who are. It is problem-solving, creative thinking, event planning, and putting out fires. Pretty much exactly what I have been doing in hotel management for the last 20 years.

And finally, once again I am creating my own slew of screen credits by writing, producing, and directing another short, tentatively titled, "Skeletons." Michelle Farrell and I are teaming up again to shoot this at my friend (and one of my Executive Producers from "Smalltimore") Mikey's cabin (above photo) in the Poconos. "Skeletons," is a very heavy, dramatic piece with only two actors, so it will be very different from my previous work. I am looking forward to the challenge, and to challenging Michelle (i.e., driving her crazy) to make this no-budget short look like a million bucks.

On top of all that, I have been writing up proposals and filling out applications for a couple of local fellowships that could, if they so choose, award me with film gear and work space. Don't want to go too far into that and jinx it, so I'll let you know the outcome.

But the thing about those fellowships, and about the big hopes I have for what will be going on in my life a year from now (more on that after January, don't want to jinx that either), is this: bottom line is, it doesn't matter. I want these things, I really want them, I feel I deserve them and I could do justice to the people who might award me these things by giving back to them a quality product which is really their goal, to help an artist to do exactly that, and they would make meeting my own goals a whole lot easier, but the bottom line is: I will do it with or without them.

I am not saying that in a way to thumb my nose at anyone, that is not what I mean. What I mean is that, if you are going to do something like this, you just have to freaking do it, and you can't depend on anyone to help you get it done. I spent over a year, after deciding to make "Smalltimore" a reality on screen, thinking that I was dependent on other people who knew more than I did helping me to get it done. It was not until several people along the way did not live up to my (possibly ridiculous) expectations did I say to myself, screw this, I AM getting this done, one way or another. And I did.

Once I did that, as I have talked about before, other people that I had not expected to help me stepped forward and gave me support that I could not have dreamed of asking for. That's the way it goes. But you can't count on that either. You just have to move forward. None of this is brain surgery. All of it is hard work, and getting your hands dirty. The trick is to be above nothing. That is what gets people's attention, and respect.